Iceland Travel Tips, Part 2: A Guest Post by Shanon

It’s two months to the day that we embarked on our Iceland adventure and we still can’t get over how amazing it was. Every day it seems I hear from someone else who wants to go, so even thought I’ve already written a ton about our trip, I wanted to share one more post with you – this one from the perspective of one of my teammates and travel buddies, Shanon.

Iceland Redux: More Travel Tips

After we got back from Iceland, I’d asked everyone to provide some feedback on the trip. I aggregated the group’s comments in an earlier Iceland Travel Tips post. However, Shanon had so much great stuff to say that she basically provided me with an entire post! Her comments and tips are too good not to share, so with her permission, I’m posting them almost verbatim right here (along with some additional thoughts of my own, in italics). I hope you find them helpful!

What was the best part?

The Road Trip

The best part by far was staying away from Reykjavik and hiking every day. I thought I would hate staying in a different hotel every night. However, it turned out to be a blessing. We maximized our time in the countryside seeing all the beautiful landscapes and meeting the super receptive locals.

Shanon and Mandy at Gullfoss
Shanon and Mandy at Gullfoss: too cute!

The “best part” for me has to be split up in different categories as follows. I would say these are the must dos/sees.

Best scenic views

The number one view was the sunny day spent on Jökulsárlón’s Diamond Beach in October. I don’t know if you get the same effect in the spring or winter, but a sunny day in October was breathtaking. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon was appealing too, however, the beach was much more enjoyable. The second view was the sunny drive from Vik to Jökulsárlón. We saw many volcanoes, glaciers, the ocean, and moss-covered lava fields.

Best hikes

My favorites were the two hikes in Þórsmörk after the SuperJeep ride: the hike up to Snorrariki and down to Skagfjordsskali and the hike through the river in Nauthusagil canyon. [Read more about these in my post about Þórsmörk & Jökulsárlón]

Best food

Svarta Kaffi (the soup café) in Reykjavik was by far my favorite. They served a daily special of soup in a bread bowl; they had beer, too. My second-favorite was the Icelandic cod at both the Laundromat Café and Frederiksen Ale House; they both do fish and chips correctly. Side note, every pizza I had was amazing, and the hotel breakfasts were really good. You don’t have to get fancy to have great food in Iceland.

Best sidetracks / secret stops

I loved feeding the horses next to the ice cream stop (Efstidalur farm) and our stop at Skjól bar (& campground). Also, the fact that we got to play hockey at the end of the trip (community building) was awesome.

Skjol bar campground Iceland
Music for beer at Skjol Bar & Campground

At Efstidalur, we stopped for ice cream but also got some free horse and puppy time, along with some delicious gluten-free soup.

Skjól was a great find as it stays open later than many other places on the Golden Circle and serves fish & chips, chicken fingers, and some tasty pizza. It’s a casual sort of place and they have musical instruments you can play, so we whiled a way a few hours there before heading to the Secret Lagoon for our nighttime soak.

Best waterfalls

In my opinion, Gulfoss and Seljalandsfoss were the most striking of the waterfalls we visited.

Gullfoss: This waterfall stood out to me because of the pure power and size of it (based on width and height) – that and the walkability of it. You are allowed to walk up and down the river, with ease, to see the waterfall from a variety of angles without getting soaked (as long as the wind is blowing in a favorable direction). Fun fact: depending on which source you use, Gullfoss is in the top 40 for the world’s largest waterfall by width.

Seljalandsfoss: Why this waterfall? Simple, you can walk behind it! Keep in mind you will most likely get soaked if you make this short hike behind the falls (this is where the advice about waterproof or quick-drying clothes comes in handy).  

SuperJeep Guide & Seljalandsfoss
(left) SuperJeep guide Arni; (right) You stand a good chance of getting wet walking behind Seljalandsfoss

Best people

Getting to know the knuckleheaded tour guides was super fun (Árni and our volcano tube guide Sven). Also, it was fun trying to get the serious guys to crack a smile (i.e., the brewmaster at Olvisholt).

Best of the Best: Horses! 

This came as a little blessing. Four of us went on a horseback ride at Laxnes Horse Farm. Why is this the best of the best? Simply for me, I love horses and I love the Icelandic countryside. We rode for over 6 miles up and down the beautiful Icelandic countryside to a waterfall. This wasn’t like any other horseback rides I have experienced. If you are an experienced rider, they let you run back (just ask Cat). And, well they are Icelandic  🙂  Meaning they were short, sturdy, and strong….just like me.

Shanon and spirit animal (a sturdy little Icelandic horse)
Shanon and her spirit animal

What do you wish had been different?

I wouldn’t have changed anything. More sun would have been nice. Okay, I would have packed* a hell of a lot less and stayed another week to experience the North. Umm, I would like to have done a glacier walk. I don’t think this was possible because of being there in October.

*I packed everything into a big backpack and it was still too much.

Shanon was a champion packer; don’t let her kid you. I can’t believe how small her backpack actually was! I agree about the glacier walk, too, but due to the time of year and our relatively short stay, it just didn’t fit in – one of many reasons to go back!

What advice would you give someone traveling to Iceland?

Pacing & Planning

  • Go with a group of 5-10; 14 was fine because we split up in cars and Jean knew how to herd cats. Actual footage from our trip.
  • Get away from the normal tourist spots; buy a local map and go explore.
  • Rent your own car for the trip, so you can see the country like we did. With a bigger group like ours, having multiple cars instead of a bus gave us a lot more freedom and flexibility.
  • Plan a day when you can do what you want apart from the rest of the group (horseback riding, volcano tubes, sleep in). After 5 days on the road, we returned to Reykjavik. Before the tournament started we had two free days when people could do their own things like book day trips or just chill in Reykjavik.
  • Plan in down time. On the more active days, you’ll be out and about for about 8-10 hours. Relax at night with your friends or spouses.
  • Don’t stress at all over the hotels; the rooms are small and basic compared to most major U.S. hotels. We booked “comfort” accommodations, which were, admittedly, basic, though clean and warm. Our main requirement was that each room had a private bath and we didn’t want to break the budget since we didn’t spend much time in our rooms anyway.

Packing & Laundry

  • Pack enough underwear and socks for the entire trip because there are no self-serve laundromats (except the Laundromat Café). Otherwise, pack extremely light (5 layered outfits at the most for a 10-day trip).
  • Waterproof, waterproof, waterproof: You don’t necessarily need waterproof pants, just quick drying, especially if you have a long rain jacket. I never wore my waterproof pants, just athletic leggings and a comfy pair of water-resistant Duluth Trader pants. Otherwise, everything else needs to be waterproof. Most of our hikes were only a few hours at a time, and we got right back into our warm cars. You might want waterproof legwear if you’re doing longer treks.
  • Over the ankle boots or at the ankle? I would honestly take both. I liked my high-top waterproof hikers because they kept the black sand and rocks out of my shoes and kept my feet dry when I stepped in deep puddles. However, I ended up bringing low tops, too. They worked perfectly on most of the hikes (the ones not involving sand or deeper water) and were more comfy. Check with the activities you’re planning to do; some, like dog sledding, require over-the-ankle boots.
  • Ladies, bring/wear sport bras. I needed them for the hikes and horseback riding.
Colorful clothes make photographic subjects stand out
Colorful clothes, colorful personalities make for great pictures

Pictures & Posting

  • Wear brightly colored jackets and hats. It makes all the pictures better. 🙂 She’s right; those of us wearing black blended right into the landscape while those wearing bright colors really stood out in nice contrast to the sky and landscape.
  • Take short videos along with pictures.
  • Have a Wi-Fi hotspot for everyday of the trip. This was good for communicating between cars, navigating, looking up places to eat or last-minute activities, and staying in touch back home

Anyone else?

Hello out there! Anyone else who’s been to Iceland have anything to add? Chime in using the comments section! 

For more tips see my original Iceland Travel Tips post. For more about our experiences in Iceland, start with my first of five posts: In Love with Iceland.

Want a custom travel plan to Iceland or somewhere else? Check out Global at Heart’s travel planning services!

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